The safety of medium and art – and the avantgarde

The contest between two artists, Zeuxis and Parrhasios

Two ancient artists competing against each other: Zeuxis paints grapes so realistic, that birds try to eat them. Parrhasios paints a curtain ‚hiding‘ his painting, which is so realistic that the other artist is fooled: Zeuxis isn’t able to perceive Parrhasios artwork as such at all because it is too realistic.

An old question: What should be called ‚art‘? Is it a subjective interpretation of reality, or an objective depiction that could be mistaken for reality? Does art, in the first place, have to be interpretable as art – before one can interpret its contents?

Engraving of Zeuxis and Parrhasios:

Trompe l’oeil

Deception of the eye: A piece of art that make use of, or trangsress the physical boundaries of its visual medium to startle or to bluff. This can be an artistic intervention to render the medium visible – by letting it flow over into reality.

A beautiful example is Pere Borell de Caso (1874), „Escapando de la crítica„, or „Escaping Criticism“, where a boy seems to step out of the painting’s frame which is also painted.

Interestingly, this painting could also be interpreted as ‚avoiding the discrimination‘ between what is real and what is virtual; or a hint that the framing of a medium, a framing which usually generates safety, can be incorporated in a work of art. As with a game, we can expect that content stays within the magic circle of the medium, and behaves true to the rules of the medium: A painting does not move or change, it has no (interesting) backside or depth, it stays in one place and does not follow us around.
A murder mystery is harmless fun as long as it stays within the frame of its technical medium, e.g. a book or a movie; but it gets threatening if it steps out of its boundaries.

Do you know Oscar Wilde’s famous 1890 novel „The Picture of Dorian Gray“? The „Nightmare on Elm Street“ movies? Fincher’s movie „The Game“ or, one of the latest addition to this genre, Suzuki’s excellent „The Ring“? See the similarity to Borell de Caso’s painting with a girl getting out of a TV-screen in „The Ring“ (US-remake from 2002).
The horror, when a medium does not behave as expected…! Weiterlesen

Unusability: You don’t want to play it again!

“Unusable games“ sound like a contradiction: Who would want to play a game that doesn’t work? And why are there designers – educators, of all the people with already a reputation for bad game design – that create these unusable games?

If in a game we regret acting like we did, usable games give us a chance to do better next time.
Unusable games force us to repeat the same regrettable action over and over, until we regret playing the game as it is, without alterations of its rules or its narratives to do better.
Its a game-genre about awareness: Stop playing by the given rules, laugh at them – or change them.

Games demand from the player blind trust that they, as a medium, behave in a stable, foreseeable and conventional way. For example a game is usually accompanied by the exciting suspense of who may win in the end; a game that ‘cheats’, by subtly sabotaging this balance in favour of the game, of one player or a group of players, may turn gameplay into a frustrating experience.

So, if given a game the player expects it to be balanced, to be fun, to contain a coherent contextualisation. She expects it to be either culturally and traditionally tethered and proven like chess, or, with contemporary games, created en bloc by a competent and benevolent game designer for her entertainment.